MINETTO, NY – In the moments after the storm passed last night (July 8) the proprietor of one of the country’s few remaining drive-in theaters stood quietly near the projection room looking toward the destroyed movie screen.
“It’s going to be a few days before we know what the insurance will say,” Midway Drive-In Theater owner John Nagelschmidt said Tuesday (July 8).
Oswego County Today asked if he is made whole financially would he rebuild?
“Nothing’s impossible,” Nagelschmidt said.
The storm that brought down the big screen hit Central New York with extreme alert tornado warnings posted by the National Weather Service at about 5:50 p.m. for nearby counties of Onondaga, Madison, Cayuga and Oneida.
The theater is in Oswego County where there were severe storm warnings, but no tornado alerts.
The theater owner said he was having supper at Mom and Pop’s diner in Oswego and after the heavy rain passed decided to head for the drive-in to check and see if the lot had flooded.
With a seven-night movie schedule, cars would soon be headed to the Route 48 theater in Minetto for the dusk showing of the slated double-feature “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Maleficent”.
“I was going to go home and take a shower first,” Nagelschmidt said while looking at the splintered remains of plywood and cement board clinging to framework and massive wooden poles that comprise the 50 feet x 100 feet movie screen. “I had to work tonight.”
The historic Midway Drive-In Theatre opened in the summer of 1948 as the visionary enterprise of Ruben and Irving Canter, nearly a decade before the heyday of drive-ins would surge in the 1950s and ’60s.
In the late 1960’s, Midway was sold to A.T. Kolinski and C. Girard.
After working at the theater while a SUNY Oswego student and then managing the landmark, Nagelschmidt bought the business in 1987 and has run it as a family operation ever since.
“We’re all family, everyone who works here,” he said.
John’s daughter Heidi said before she was even able to get to the drive-in to see what happened people from all over the United States began contacting her to check on the family.
People across the country connected by social media saw the first photos of the iconic projection screen decimated by wind and the news spread like a wild fire.
“Facebook is such a great medium, our pages just lit up with comments of love and support from the community for this landmark that is my second home,” Heidi said.
“When I got the call that there had been damage, I just knew it was the screen. Ever since I was a little girl I would just stand and look in awe at its awesomeness. … I kind of looked at it as a castle, or a fortress – like nothing could ever damage it.” Heidi said.
The screen and cement block wall suffered damage, along with the ticket booth from flying debris and a few trees downed on the property, but the projection room and the parking lot were intact.
And even though ravaged by the evening storm, Heidi noted the screen’s foundation is still standing and said her magic fortress is defiant.
“Like it’s saying, ‘You can’t take me down,'” she said.
As the family allowed John a brief intermission of quiet reflection, Heidi expressed the emotion in her own heart.
“It’ll live on,” she said.